From under the Tuscan sun to the Italian Riviera... discover the stories behind the brilliance of Renaissance painters and sculptors from an art historian in Florence... prepare pasta with a chef and learn the finer points of olive oil tasting...
For the culturally curious, this journey through Italy is a feeling that you've become much more savvy after an art history briefing. It’s walking through the medieval alleys of Siena... or bicycling atop the walls of Lucca. It’s laughter. It’s sharing vino made from grapes in the vineyards you’ve just walked through and kicking back. It’s about becoming a part of day-to-day Italy... and new views on life... Hear a recital by a concert pianist in his private palazzo and chat with artisans... discover the beauty of natural marble and Cinque Terre villages overlooking the sea, connected by walking trails...
Welcome to Florence
Tour begins: 3:00 PM, Hotel Plaza Lucchesi. A transfer is included from the Peretola Airport to the elegant Hotel Plaza Lucchesi, a historic property overlooking the Arno River in the center of Florence since 1860... where your room will have a view featuring the river or the Duomo and Santa Croce. A twisted maze of narrow alleyways... and your Tuscany travel adventure begins. Florence’s Renaissance heart makes yours beat a little faster as you ramble through it with your Florentine guide. Stroll along the Arno and check out Santa Maria del Fiore, the Duomo. See, touch and feel the mark of Michelangelo and Brunelleschi in stately palazzi and beautiful basilicas, and tour the new Opera Duomo Museum. Cocktails and canapés on your hotel's rooftop terrace (weather permitting) offer a warm and tasty welcome tonight... along with 360-degree views of the city! Then it's a short walk to a local Florentine restaurant for a true Tuscan welcome dinner. The venue is lively, the conversation stimulating... you have arrived in Italy!
Renaissance Art and Architecture
Michelangelo's shadow looms large in Firenze. But how... why... where? You'll get a few answers on today's first stop – an early-opening, private morning visit of the 15th-century Basilica di Santa Croce. Dubbed the “Temple of Italian Glories,” Florence’s answer to London’s Westminster Abbey is filled with the tombs of major Italian legends – including Michelangelo, Galileo, Rossini, Machiavelli, and more, along with a statue that inspired the Statue of Liberty. Then discover some of the city's masterpieces on a guided visit to the Uffizi – Europe's oldest art gallery, founded by the Medicis to display their countless treasures – revealing a few secrets of its own. Getting up close and personal with Botticelli’s Birth of Venus or Michelangelo’s Doni Tondo, in a frame designed by the Master himself, can’t help but touch your soul… and the artist lurking within. By midday you'll understand how art and history are inextricably intertwined in Florence. We've all got passionate interests, and you'll have the afternoon and evening free to explore yours in Florence today... as well as check out some of the city's culinary offerings on your own... perhaps appreciate more Renaissance art, and all things Florentine… bellissimo!
Florentine artisans and artists
Take a walk along the cobbled streets of Florence, its Renaissance palaces harboring salacious scandals and murky intrigues... You're in the thick of Florentine life in the old San Niccolo district's bustling squares and artisans' workshops and craft guilds. Discover the rich history of Florentine artisans and their guilds as you walk with your local guide over the Ponte Vecchio, with its famous shops, to the Orsanmichele facade featuring sculptures dedicated to the guilds. Wind up your tour at a building in the Piazza della Signoria that once housed original leaders of the guilds. Following an afternoon exploring as you wish, join concert pianist Gregorio Nardi at his Palazzo Bargellini, where you'll enjoy a personal tour, a recital on a Steinway grand piano, lively discussions on history and local politics, and an aperitivo. Later, dine as you please on your own, perhaps a taste of vino and local cheeses at an enoteca... now that's amore...
Carrara Marble & on to Cinque Terre National Park
The road winds and twists and turns as you travel toward the Gulf of Genoa. Take a winding road deep into a mountain aboard a 4x4 to see where celebrated Carrara marble, considered the finest on Earth, has been quarried since Roman times, at what is the oldest industrial site on Earth. After stopping for a simple lunch in the village of Colonnata, continue to Portovenere on the Gulf of Poets, where you’ll instantly get why this stunning Roman-Byzantine town was named for the goddess Venus. Colorful houses cascade along a hillside against the azure sea… the black-and-white-striped Gothic church of San Pietro perched above... images captured as your motor boat (weather permitting) navigates the Mediterranean waters along Cinque Terre to Portovenere in the heart of the "Gulf of Poets" for a two-night stay inside Cinque Terre National Park; all guest rooms have sea views. Dine this evening at your hotel overlooking the harbor... images not soon forgotten...
"The Five Lands” of Cinque Terre National Park
Travel to Monterosso al Mare, one of five remote fishing villages strung like jewels along the coast – Cinque Terre National Park, “the five lands.” They’re now linked to the outside world by rail, but for centuries were accessible only by sea… or on foot, the best way to appreciate life in what is truly a world of its own. If you wish, join us for one of the world’s most spectacular coastal hikes, through terraced vineyards overlooking the sea from Monterosso to Vernazza – the “pearl of Cinque Terre.” If not, you'll take a walking tour with a local guide. Spend the afternoon in Vernazza, and fall in love with village life… indelible seascape memories… or perhaps a visit to a sidewalk café, alive with the flavors of local wines, citrus, olives, and the catch of the day. Return late day to Portovenere, where the evening is free to spend as you please.
Cycling, Cooking, and Tastings
A jog, or a swim, is an excellent way to start the day before a drive through the Tuscan hills to Lucca. This medieval city's surviving Renaissance-era, red-brick walls shut out traffic and the modern world… leaving a peaceful community that still revolves around its original Roman street plan, encircled by a delightful, tree-lined promenade. And because it’s topographically flat – unlike most Tuscan towns – Lucca is a cyclist’s dream. One of the best ways to explore this historically powerful and culturally rich city is by bicycle... and, led by your local guide, you'll do just that – down its narrow lanes… across its ancient piazzas… even along the top of its massive walls. Guests who choose not to join the bicycle excursion can spend the time walking and exploring the center of Lucca as they please. If you’re wondering if Tuscany is all about the food, a hands-on lesson with experts in the art of making fresh pasta at Fattoria Colle Verde, one of the region’s foremost wineries and olive oil producers, may shed some light. After a little testing and a little cooking, cap your pasta-making debut with a little virgin olive oil tasting… a little Tuscan wine tasting… and more than a little pasta tasting at lunch. Then it's on to the historic Tuscan city of Siena for a two-night stay.
Neighborhoods of Siena
Awaken in beautiful Siena and spend the morning exploring as you wish; your Tauck Director can suggest museums, galleries and other points of interest, as well as great spots to enjoy lunch on your own. Or you can rise early and join us for an optional hot air balloon ride over the lush Tuscan landscapes, followed by a champagne breakfast (for an additional charge; see Pricing & Availability for details). Later, accompany your local guide to discover Siena's many architectural treasures on a walking tour – including its black-and-white Duomo, one of Italy's great cathedrals, with scenes inlaid in the marble floors and sculpture by Michelangelo. You'll see the Piazza del Campo – where the famous Palio bareback horse race has been held twice every year for centuries – Palazzo Salimbeni, Palazzo Tolomei, Torre di Mangia, Santa Maria della Scalla and more. After some time to explore on your own, cap your Tuscany travel adventure with cocktails and canapés in an ancient wine cellar, followed by a memorable dinner of Tuscan specialties in an absolutely magical spot… under the setting Tuscan sun.
Tour ends: Florence. Fly home anytime. A transfer is included from Siena’s Grand Hotel Continental to Florence Airport, Peretola, or Firenze Santa Maria Novella train station. Allow a minimum of three hours for flight check-in.